There are cars, and then there is Bentley. There are suits, and then there is Armani. There are secret agents, and then there is James Bond. Now, as we stand on the precipice of legalization in Canada, marijuana can and will be branded in a variety of ways, and one of them will be to appeal to someone who desires an experience significantly finer than the status quo.
Enter Tokyo Smoke, which has more style than a James Dean sandwich with a side of Chuck Norris fries. This first-class shop is a “high design cultural showroom selling museum-quality collectibles and branded Tokyo Smoke goods, on top of their custom roast coffee beans.” They also sell artisanal sandwiches and cold pressed juices.
Alan Gertner is the Chief Executive and co-founder of Tokyo Smoke, and he tells Marijuana.com why his shop is an experience like no other. “The idea behind Tokyo Smoke is to create a modern, high awareness cannabis brand. To bring stratification to cannabis and recognize that today, although there is strong pot and weak pot, there’s not really sexy pot or designer pot.”
Alan goes on to add that we currently live in a world where cannabis brands cater to a specific culture and he wanted to create a brand for those who love design and great experiences. “We are doing this through high end coffee shops and head shops. So we have high visibility coffee shops where you can get a beautiful latte and buy the best cannabis paraphernalia and on the back of that, we license our brand name to cannabis growers in legal marijuana jurisdictions. I like to think of it as the Ralph Lauren of cannabis.”
The idea of branding a cannabis company at this level was partially a product of the years Alan spent as a corporate strategist at Google in California in addition to running a business in Asia. “I’ve been lucky to watch big, sophisticated companies develop and be part of developing a big sophisticated business. You work with the people around you and see that cannabis plays a role in many people’s lives. In addition to that, my father has been in the cannabis industry for over fifteen years. He co-founded a company in Canada that had the first license to grow medical marijuana.”
Alan’s father is Lorne Gertner and the corporation Alan is referring to is the legendary Cannasat, which was publicly launched in 2006 and went on to be the company that helped pave the way for medical marijuana use in Canada today. His father is also the Chairman of Tokyo Smoke.
Aside from their swanky atmosphere at 850b Adelaide Street West that simply bleeds awesomeness, another facet of the company, specifically the brand name side, is one of the few leading the charge when it comes to making marijuana a brandable product. This may seem on the surface to be just a savvy entrepreneur who has an idea, but the more important aspect here is that companies like Tokyo Smoke are helping take cannabis out of the stigma that it’s just for Cheeto-eating potheads who do nothing all day but toke up.
By making “sexy pot” or “designer pot” as Alan put it, he is subconsciously opening up his market to include people who like nice things and who want to try marijuana, including a healthy and employed middle class or perhaps individuals who have more than a few Toonies to burn.
Examples of legalization of a product, followed by widespread branding to consumers can be seen in a wide variety of industries. These include liquor, adult magazines, tattoos and other counter-culture areas that were once viewed as taboo, but now completely integrated in society. It’s safe to assume cannabis is next in that category and Tokyo Smoke is positioning itself to be the gourmet in the room.
“We have four experiences that we think exist in marijuana. We have ‘go,’ ‘relax,’ ‘relief,’ and ‘balance.’” These are specific strains that Alan and his team have named that have been made by a licensed producer partner.
Alan points out that the incentive for licensed producers to name certain strains after Tokyo Smoke is that they are creating a brand experience that will help sell the product. “I think a huge part of our value at Tokyo Smoke is being a consumer marketing business and presenting a brand to consumers that stands for something that they can connect with. There is value for a grower in licensing the brand because we can be great at what we’re great at, which is building this brand and building great experiences and the grower can be great at what they are great at which is growing cannabis. It allows us to be experts in our own fields and come together to create something truly beautiful.”
No matter which way the cannabis biz grows in Canada, Tokyo Smoke is one to watch. They are making waves for their unique brand even before legalization has come into play and they have done so without selling any weed at this point, as the licensing of their name is a new development. They hope to have their branded cannabis on store shelves in Washington soon and then well beyond Washington as the market develops in North America and around the world.